Union president accuses company of union busting
The president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers (FFAW) union accused Ocean Choice International on Monday of union-busting, after talks to resolve the Newfoundland Lynx dispute broke down.
“The company is not serious about trying to resolve this,” union president Earle McCurdy said at a news conference Monday afternoon at the union office on Hamilton Avenue in St. John’s. “They’re interested in nothing less than capitulation, not negotiation. So this dispute is going to continue.”
McCurdy said the union “pushed them hard” in talks to try to resolve the dispute to avoid disruption to the raw material supply for Ocean Choice’s inshore plants.
“But they leave no recourse when they sail a boat with scab labour, and after two months of dispute put an offer on the table that’s worse than the offer they had at the start of the dispute.”
The crew of the Newfoundland Lynx has been locked out since Feb 5. In February, union members and other protesters were arrested in Bay Roberts while trying to prevent replacement workers from boarding the vessel. Unionized trawlermen boarded the ship last month while it was docked in Nova Scotia, and say they convinced six replacement workers to leave the Lynx, while Ocean Choice suggested those who left had been bribed.
The union has three main sticking points in Ocean Choice’s latest offer, dated March 28, including a provision that would make the agreement applicable only to the Newfoundland Lynx, and not to any of Ocean Choice’s other shrimp vessels.
“If we acquiesced to that, what’s to stop them tomorrow from taking that boat and putting it under a numbered company — and they’re quite experienced in dealing with numbered companies, they have several of them — and then saying, ‘Well, that’s no longer an OCI boat,’ and put a different name on it and then say, ‘Sorry, boys. You’re not in the collective agreement’?”
Another “showstopper,” according to McCurdy, is an amendment that would exclude the second mate, second engineer and charge hand from the bargaining unit when vacancies occur in those positions. “In other words, people who have been in our union since they started working on those boats, suddenly they just say, ‘We’re going to terminate those positions from the bargaining unit.’”
Finally, Ocean Choice has included a provision that the union will support Ocean Choice in getting an exemption from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture on the minimum processing requirements of redfish, in the form of a written letter. McCurdy accused Ocean Choice — and its CEO, Martin Sullivan — of shutting down the province’s groundfish industry.
“They’ve closed Marystown, they obviously have no interest whatsoever in the people of Marystown, not lifting a finger to help them,” he said. “They never did have any interest in Fortune. That was always a straw man. Even now they’re out talking with non-union buyers to try to move yellowtail in there rather than in Fortune. And to suggest that in the face of them turning their back on the people in those plants, that we would endorse an exemption to allow them to land all redfish in the province and export it without a single pound going through a plant? When they’ve turned their back on those plant workers and those communities? You’ve got to be joking, Mr. Sullivan.”
McCurdy said the dispute isn’t about management’s rights, as he said Sullivan has indicated, or fishing redfish. “This is about Ocean Choice International engaging in union busting. I’ve never dealt, in 35 years in this business, never dealt with such an anti-union company in all that time as Ocean Choice International and the principals in that company.”
A spokeswoman for Ocean Choice said the company learned talks had broken down only through media reports that the union said negotiations had halted, and was preparing its response. Representatives for Ocean Choice were not available for comment Monday.